Font Bureau Sues NBC

Font Bureau legal material for a court case with NBC

Font Bureau legal material for a court case with NBC

Font Bureau is a Boston-based company responsible for fonts you may have used in your own work, such as Matthew Carter’s version of Big Caslon, Tobias Frere-Jones’ Benton Modern (created to improve text at The Boston Globe), and Richard Lipton’s Bodoni Bold Condensed. Other fonts created for purchase through the type company include David Berlow’s Bureau Grot (with commissioned custom versions created at the request of Roger Black), Tobias Frere-Jones’ Interstate (inspired by the typography used by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration), and Cyrus Highsmith’s Antenna.

What do these last three fonts have in common?

NBC is using the fonts in marketing and promotional materials for popular shows in the fall season line up (have you heard of Saturday Night Live, The Jay Leno Show, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon?). The problem is this: NBC only paid for a single license.


Here is what wrote about the case:

In a trademark and copyright infringement lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Font Bureau argues that NBC only paid for a single license—which would only permit the company to install the typefaces on a single computer—and only paid to use a limited number of fonts. But NBC went ahead and copied the fonts to a bunch of other computers within the company, Font Bureau claims, and also started using several other fonts for which licenses were never obtained.

Font Bureau, Inc. is asking for $2 million in damages. I speculate that NBC will probably settle the dispute out of court as it is too late to reproduce all of those marketing materials.

In digital foundation classes, I usually spend one session on copyright laws and fair use for artists and designers. I have to admit, being an artist (and not a lawyer), I spend more time discussing fair use. Cases like this are so important for educators and design students because they exemplify situations where illegal use of copyright protected material are found and tried.

This case is also important because it is about one of the most significant design elements: type. Learning about type designers is like learning about new bands. There are so many of them and some have made so many type faces (the albums of type) that it can be overwhelming when you first begin to start a collection. As an audio learner, I love to listen to the radio (online or analog).

Play "Guess the typeface" on

Play "Guess the typeface" on

For me, is a rich online resource. I found the site years ago, and it looks like they are no longer producing new material. You can hear both Tobias Frere-Jones and Cyrus Highsmith recorded and archived on the website. If you are looking for something truly font-astic, I suggest playing Guess the typeface. I was, in a most geekish way, so proud of myself when I guessed Franklin Gothic (my personal favorite) before Christian Schwartz guessed correctly.

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